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For Germany, the 1972 Munich Olympics were supposed to be “the Carefree Games.” There was to be no barbed wire, no Nazi spectacles, no storm troopers. Mimes and street bands wandered through the Olympic Village, while athletes and visitors chugged beer. The only guards, known as “Olys,” were armed with walkie-talkies and wore turquoise-colored blazers. The 1972 games were intended as a sybaritic festival of repudiation of the last Olympics held on German soil, the 1936 orgy of Nazi hate in Berlin. It was party time for the new Germany.
But Mohammed Daoud Oudeh, more commonly known as Abu Daoud, had other plans. In the predawn light of Sept. 5, 1972, he helped the last of a dozen armed Palestinian terrorists scale the wall of the Olympic Village, just 12 miles from Dachau, and storm the compound where 11 Israeli athletes and trainers were sleeping. Within minutes, the Palestinians had shot two of the Israelis, and for 17 hours held the world on edge as they negotiated their own release with the German authorities.
In the botched rescue attempt by the German police at a nearby airport, most of the Palestinians were killed, but not before they murdered the remaining nine Israelis in cold blood. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir vowed revenge, and Mossad “hit teams” were sent around the world to track down the terrorists and kill them.
For nearly 30 years Daoud remained in the shadows as memories went dim and passions cooled. At one point, after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Israelis even gave him a VIP pass that allowed him free passage between his home in Amman, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza.
But recently all that has changed, and many Israelis and their supporters in the United States are furious – less because of what Daoud did in Munich than because of what he has revealed about his partners in that crime. For among them, Abu Daoud says in a 1999 memoir published in French, and in a more recent interview with Sports Illustrated, was Mahmoud Abbas, the man President George W. Bush has called a “man dedicated to peace.”
Daoud’s book, “Palestine: From Jerusalem to Munich,” reaffirms what many terrorism experts and Israeli officials long suspected – that the Black September organization, which Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) always claimed was a renegade outfit, was in fact tightly controlled by Arafat. Even more shocking, however, was the allegation that Abbas, then a top Arafat deputy, provided the financing for the Munich massacre.
Daoud’s revelations went virtually unnoticed in the United States until recently, when an Israeli human-rights lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, cited them in a letter to President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that called for an investigation of Abbas’ role in the Olympic massacre and questioned whether he was a reliable partner for peace. Since then, the revelations have been circulated widely.
In his memoir, Daoud points out that Abbas went to the White House Rose Garden in September 1993 for the signing ceremony of the Oslo Accords with Arafat, president Bill Clinton and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. “Do you think that … would have been possible if the Israelis had known that Abu Mazen was the financier of our operation?” he wrote, referring to Abbas by his PLO nom de guerre. “I doubt it.”
Bitter that the Israelis had yanked his travel credentials while elevating his partner in crime, Daoud contacted Sports Illustrated last year on the 30th anniversary of the attack and told his story once again. This time, he revealed that Arafat and Abbas both had wished him luck and kissed him when he told them his plans.
When Insight asked U.S. officials and Middle East policy experts in Washington what they thought of allegations that the new Palestinian prime minister had financed the 1972 Munich massacre, the reactions ranged from shrugs to outright laughter.
“Terrorist? Who isn’t?” one official remarked. “The Israelis don’t need to make peace with their friends.”
Edward Abbington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem who now works as a paid lobbyist for the Palestinian Authority in Washington, tersely dismissed the allegations as “not relevant.” A senior aid to Abbas, Maen Areikat, scoffs at the story and tells Insight in a phone interview from the West Bank that Daoud’s account “bears no relationship to reality.” He adds: “Since the mid-1970s, [Abbas] has been advocating contacts with Israelis, even when it was considered taboo.”
For radical Islamic groups in Gaza and the West Bank, such as Hamas, contacts with Israelis other than violence still are taboo. After Israeli helicopter gunships failed to assassinate him in a rocket attack in Gaza on June 8, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi told reporters that his movement would continue to carry out suicide attacks “until not one Jew is left in Palestine.” Abbas met with Rantissi and other Hamas leaders shortly before that attack, hoping to negotiate a temporary halt to the terror.
“Here’s a guy who negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords with Israel, whom the Israelis say has put terrorism behind him,” says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Even the Israelis say that he has changed his mind and changed his activities and is a guy that they can live with. We can’t really ask for more than that.”
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have captured more than 1 million pages of documents from PLO and Palestinian offices in Gaza and the West Bank since the fighting intensified as a result of the Passover massacre in March 2002. The documents include checks from the PA finance ministry to militia leaders and to family members of suicide bombers, many of them bearing handwritten notes and detailed instructions from Arafat.
Israeli sources tell Insight the IDF also has identified documents linking Abbas to recent terrorist attacks but are refusing to release them because Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush both have invested too heavily in Abbas as a partner for peace. Areikat doubts such documents exist. “This seems to be part of an Israeli smear campaign against Abu Mazen,” he says.
At the State Department, the past associations of Abbas are considered less important than his present usefulness as a fig leaf or alternative to Arafat. “President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon believe they have a partner for peace in Prime Minister Abbas,” a spokesman for the department’s Near East bureau tells Insight. “For the past 10 years, he has consistently renounced terrorism within the Palestinian community.”
Matthew Levitt, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst who now is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes that Abbas is not the only former terrorist who the Israelis have rehabilitated.
“There are plenty of others, including people who were directly involved in Munich, whom the Israelis are willing to work with today,” he tells Insight. “The history is the history. Even recent history is history. Look at Mahmoud Dahlan,” the former Gaza security chief whom Israel and the United States now tout as a “reformer” who can clean house in Arafat’s stable of a dozen security organizations. “As recently as two years ago, Mahmoud Dahlan had blood on his hands. What matters is where he and the others stand today,” Levitt says.
But ties to terror are not the only concerns regarding Abbas. There also is the matter of a 1983 book he authored that claimed the Zionist movement “was a partner in the slaughter of the Jews” during the Third Reich, and that the Nazis killed “only a few hundred thousand” Jews, not millions. Such Holocaust denial is a staple feature of anti-Semites worldwide and frequently surfaces on state-run Palestinian Authority Television and throughout the Arab world. Abbas reasserted his views on the number of Holocaust victims in a May 28 interview with journalists from the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot: “What do you expect of me, as a historian? To accept the numbers as they were written in the books?” But he claimed he was not attempting to deny the Holocaust or in any way minimize its import. “It is not a matter of numbers,” he added. “Any murder is a heinous crime.”
The Middle East Media Research Institute has compiled other recent statements by Abbas that shed doubt on his alleged credentials as a peacemaker. Instead, they reveal a skilled politician who has mastered the linguistics of duplicity. Among them:
- The right of Palestinians to “return to Israel and not to the Palestinian state … because it is from there that [the Palestinians] were driven out and it is there that their property is found.” Israel has offered compensation to Palestinians who lost their land during the 1948 war but believes that a comprehensive settlement also must include compensation for Jews who were evicted from their homes in Arab countries. But Palestinians such as Abbas claim that most of Israel, including parts of Tel Aviv and Haifa, were built on Palestinian land that should be returned.
- No limit on the number of Palestinian refugees allowed to return to Israel, “even if [the Israelis] proposed a number of 3 million refugees.” The Israelis argue that an open-ended return of Palestinians effectively would put an end to Israel as a Jewish state because relocated Arabs soon would outnumber Jews. Many Israelis believe this is precisely what Abbas and other PA leaders want.
- Opposition to suicide bombings purely on practical, not moral, grounds. “The militarization of the Intifada was a complete mistake because we entered into war with Israel at its strong points,” Abbas told a PA newspaper. “The strongest thing Israel has is weaponry, which is the weakest thing for us.”
In a March 3 interview with Al Sharq al Awsat in London, Abbas made it clear that any temporary cease-fire, such as the one he has been attempting to negotiate with Hamas, was aimed at gaining a tactical advantage over Israel. “We didn’t talk about a break in the armed struggle. … It is our right to resist. The Intifada must continue, and it is the right of the Palestinian people to resist and use any [means] they can to defend itself and its entity.”
He went on to explain that Israeli settlements were fair targets of military action, even during a period of temporary cease-fire. “I will add that if the Israelis come to set up a settlement on your land, then it is your right to defend [yourself] with anything you have … by all means and all weapons, as long as they have come to your home. This is the right of resistance. The prohibition [on using weapons] applies only to martyrdom operations, and to going out to fight in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.” Abbas did not denounce recent attacks on Israeli settlements.
Israeli journalist David Bedein points out that when the Palestinians use the term “illegal settlement” they don’t mean what most Americans, including President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, think they mean. To Palestinians, “Illegal settlements are Jewish cities and towns that have been built where Arab cities and towns used to be,” Bedein says. “They include places such as Haifa.”
“American and Israeli hopes that [Abbas] will fight against Palestinian terrorism is paradoxical,” says Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch in Jerusalem, since terrorist attacks against Israelis in the disputed territories “are all legitimate according to the Abbas doctrine.”
Abbas has stated that in final settlement talks he would not seek to remove Jews living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, but that the new Palestinian state would not tolerate any permanent Jewish presence at the Western Wall, which is the holiest site for Jews.
“We told the Israelis [at the Camp David summit] that we would not agree with their maintaining any presence at the Western Wall. In contrast, at the Wailing Wall [a small part of the Western Wall], you can conduct your [religious] ceremonies,” he said.
In addition to this threat to limit access by Jews to their holiest site was his outright rejection that there had ever been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount. “Anyone who wants to forget the past cannot come and claim that the [Jewish] temple is situated beneath the Haram,” Abbas said, referring to the Muslim shrine that was built more than 800 years after the Second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans. “They demand that we forget what happened 50 years ago to the refugees – and I speak as a living, breathing refugee – while at the same time they claim that 2,000 years ago they had a temple. I challenge the claim that this is so.”
Kenneth Katzman, a former CIA analyst who works on Middle East issues for the Congressional Research Service, believes that Abbas’ past involvement with terror and his Holocaust denial may be the least of the problems the Palestinian prime minister faces. “I doubt that his political prospects are solid because the most radical organizations in the Palestinian community don’t report to him and actively want him to fail,” he tells Insight. An official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee agrees: “What matters is not what he did 30 years ago, but what he does today. And he can’t do anything because of Arafat.”
Shoshana Bryen, of the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, puts it bluntly: “The real Abu Mazen is the guy who financed the Munich massacre and is a Holocaust denier and in later years decided to try something else.”
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine.